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Sid Yudain: The Man Behind Roll Call

CQ Roll Call File Photo
Yudain, the founder of Roll Call, died Sunday. He was 90.

Sid Yudain always thought of Roll Call as a small town newspaper. It was just the most important small town in the world.

The founder of Roll Call died Sunday at the age of 90, and the small town he began to chronicle on June 16, 1955, just got a little smaller.

Yudain came to Congress in January 1951 as a staffer for freshman Connecticut Republican Rep. Al Morano and, seeing a need, founded “The Newspaper of Capitol Hill” in 1955.

“After getting to know and respect these dedicated people, after savoring the unique ambiance of congressional life, and mindful of the worldwide importance of the Congressional community, I decided to establish a newspaper to serve that community, a paper that would be a cohesive force, a community instrument, a complement to an unfairly neglected segment of government,” he wrote in his last column for Roll Call on May 1, 1988.

Getting It Started

Yudain was a lifelong and proud newspaperman, in every sense of the word. His first newspaper ventures were with his brothers in elementary school — they used competing editorials to ding each other, as siblings are wont to do, in lieu of sticks or stones.

In World War II, he started newspapers for the California unit he was assigned to and went on to cover Hollywood for magazines there.

After working in Congress, it was a death in the Ohio delegation that convinced him there was a place for a newspaper like Roll Call. Yudain recalled in Roll Call’s 50th anniversary newspaper that Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Ayers told him that he hadn’t even heard about the death until days later. “You know that paper you were talking about, I think you better go ahead and do it. We need it,” Ayers told him.

“It just seemed logical to bring everybody together and let the people know who’s who in which office, in the office next door to theirs, in the office down the street,” Yudain told Roll Call’s Jennifer Yachnin. “I thought we needed to get a more human spirit there, a more human aspect to the thing.”

The orientation toward community and human interest carried over to Roll Call and to his own writings for the paper, which could be found in “Sid-Bits,” a template for today’s Heard on the Hill gossip column.

“He loved that paper,” said Lael Yudain, his wife of 40 years. They met when he was 50 and she was 25. “His first wife was Roll Call,” she said.

The bylines in Roll Call over the years are a who’s who of political reporters — Ed Henry, Jim VandeHei, Nina Totenberg — and editors, such as Robert W. Merry, who left the Wall Street Journal and edited the paper after Yudain sold it to Arthur Levitt in 1986.

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